On 30 July 1943 the first combat mission of the 386th was carried out against the airfield at Woensdrecht, Holland. I was a Togglier on that mission. I watched as our formation made two passes at the target. No bombs were dropped due to "poor visibility". We went on that first mission just like the Big Boys, the B-17s and the B-24s. We approached the target in the early morning from the west. Both the target and the sun were dead ahead. We probably had a tail-wind and were moving pretty fast. The thing that probably blew this tactic into a cocked hat was the semi-permanent haze line over just about all of western Europe. This line is caused by what the meteorologist call a temperature inversion. The glare of the morning sun reflecting off this layer of haze resulted in very poor visibility for the bombardier on his bomb run.
We started out under the Eighth Air Force. Their B-17s fly twice as high as Marauders and don't always have fighter escort as we do. ME 109s love to attack the rear of bomber formations from out of the sun. B-17 gunners feel a lot more secure flying into the sun. This way they can see what they are shooting at much better. Also, high-flying planes are able to see the ground much farther ahead, even with the sun in their face.
On 15 October 1943, after 32 missions, we were re-assigned to the new kid on the block, the Ninth Bomber Command. Things didn't change much. We were losing some of our concern about enemy fighters by this time because of our own very good fighter escort. Our bombing results continued to suffer from poor visibility on those early morning missions. Capt. W.E. (Bill) Smith and I discussed this problem frequently. We saw missions fail or get only fair results that we thought should have been much better. We were sure that the answer was simple -- Just do not plan bomb runs into the sun. Together, we went to Major Harry G. (Tad) Hankey, our Group Operations Officer. At first he was more bothered than impressed. We were persistent. We began to go to him before certain missions. We told him we expected unnecessary visibility problems again. Returning crews usually confirmed this with impaired results. Major Hankey became more interested. He began calling Bomber Command suggesting changes. They always came back with an irritated "NO".
One morning we received a typical Field Order. We were to follow another Group and bomb into the sun. We convinced Major Hankey that this was the perfect test case. He took a deep breath and called Bomber Command one more time. He told them that we were going to move away from the Lead Formation and make our own bomb run with the sun at our side. They said, "If you screw up --- its your ass".
We didn't screw up. Our results were better than those of the Lead Formation. Now we weren't just sure. We were positive. With Major Hankey's help we went through this same song-and-dance routine with Bomber Command another couple of times. The results were the same. We always had as good, or better results because we could see the target a lot better. Not long after that Bomber Command began to change our Field Orders to overcome this problem.
A good example of the new bomb run concept was a maximum Bomber Command raid early one morning on 13 December 1943. Amsterdam Schipol Airfield in Holland was our target. Group after Group came in from the English Channel heading due east with our target on our left. We passed by, turned left twice and made our bomb run going due west with the sun at our back. Visibility was good. Bombing results were outstanding.
Albert E. Hill